Scientists target 3-mile-high Martian mountain
An oblique view of Mount Sharp, where Curiosity is expected to land in August 2012.
March 30th, 2012
04:11 PM ET

Scientists target 3-mile-high Martian mountain

There's a formation on Mars that's been enticing scientists since it was first observed in the 1970s: Mount Sharp, in the middle of Gale Crater. If Gale Crater sounds familiar, it's because that's where the Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - is slated to land in August of this year.

Curiosity is the first Mars rover to even attempt to land on the narrow strip of flatter ground at the foot of Mount Sharp, thanks to precision-landing technology on the one-ton rover.

So why is Mount Sharp such an interesting target? Scientists hope that by studying the roughly 5-kilometer-high formation, (3.1 miles) Curiosity will be able to shed more light on whether conditions were ever favorable for life on Mars. Just to give you an idea how tall this thing is, the Grand Canyon is only a mile (1.6 kilometers) deep according to the National Park Service.

Georgia Tech's James Wray, a science team collaborator for the Curiosity mission, tells us that Mount Sharp has kilometers of sedimentary layers that could reveal clues to millions of years of Martian geologic history. As on Earth, where geologists study formations to understand how they fit into the stratigraphic - that is, chronologic - history of the planet, Mount Sharp presents an opportunity to do the same on Mars.

"Mount Sharp is the only place we can currently access on Mars where we can investigate this transition in one stratigraphic sequence," said Caltech's John Grotzinger, chief scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory, in a statement. Wray likens it to "reading thousands of successive pages from an encyclopedia of Martian history."

Mount Sharp is an apt name - in the tradition of naming Martian features after scientists (Gale Crater was named for Australian astronomer Walter Gale), the mountain is named after a geologist, Robert P. Sharp, who was at the forefront of planetary science and a member of NASA's first few Mars missions.

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Filed under: In Space • Robots
Hubble Spies a Spiral Galaxy Edge-on
March 30th, 2012
12:38 PM ET

Hubble Spies a Spiral Galaxy Edge-on

"The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has spotted the "UFO Galaxy." NGC 2683 is a spiral galaxy seen almost edge-on, giving it the shape of a classic science fiction spaceship. This is why the astronomers at the Astronaut Memorial Planetarium and Observatory, Cocoa, Fla., gave it this attention-grabbing nickname.

While a bird's eye view lets us see the detailed structure of a galaxy (such as this Hubble image of a barred spiral), a side-on view has its own perks. In particular, it gives astronomers a great opportunity to see the delicate dusty lanes of the spiral arms silhouetted against the golden haze of the galaxy’s core. In addition, brilliant clusters of young blue stars shine scattered throughout the disc, mapping the galaxy’s star-forming regions.

Perhaps surprisingly, side-on views of galaxies like this one do not prevent astronomers from deducing their structures. Studies of the properties of the light coming from NGC 2683 suggest that this is a barred spiral galaxy, even though the angle we see it at does not let us see this directly.

This image is produced from two adjacent fields observed in visible and infrared light by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. A narrow strip which appears slightly blurred and crosses most the image horizontally is a result of a gap between Hubble’s detectors. This strip has been patched using images from observations of the galaxy made by ground-based telescopes, which show significantly less detail. The field of view is approximately 6.5 by 3.3 arcminutes."

Source: NASA

Filed under: Light up the screen
The Innovation Generation
March 30th, 2012
11:42 AM ET

The Innovation Generation

By Pamela Greyer, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note: Pamela Greyer is a K-12 science educator, STEM education consultant and NASA solar system ambassador. She is the former site director of NASA’s Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy Chicago Program and continues to mentor and engage youths in NASA engineering competitions and contests.

This is her second post about leading a team through the process of competing in NASA's Great Moonbuggy Race. Catch up on her story here.

"Ms. G, How are we supposed to build this?"

If anybody ever said building a moonbuggy for NASA's Great Moonbuggy Race was an easy task, they were definitely not telling the whole story.

The team is excited by the idea of going to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to race their moonbuggy. But before that can happen, they have to design and build the buggy.

This project presents as many challenges to the students today as it did for the NASA engineers who designed the first lunar vehicle. My students have discovered the art of innovation while designing their moonbuggy.

"This is more than a challenge in engineering design," said one of my students. "Where are the directions?"
FULL POST

Buzz Lightyear that flew on space shuttle donated to Smithsonian
Buzz Lightyear with NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver.
March 30th, 2012
10:17 AM ET

Buzz Lightyear that flew on space shuttle donated to Smithsonian

After thousands of trips around the Earth, Buzz Lightyear has landed at the Smithsonian.

The foot-high plastic toy, representing the character from Disney's "Toy Story" franchise, flew to the International Space Station aboard space shuttle Discovery on May 31, 2008.

Once aboard, the toy was part of interactive games and special messages designed by NASA and Disney to encourage children to pursue careers in science.

The action figure was brought to NASA ahead of his journey to make him lighter and safer for the voyage.

FULL STORY
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Filed under: On Earth
Overheard on CNN.com: Space, science invoke some of life's thorniest questions
March 30th, 2012
09:43 AM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Space, science invoke some of life's thorniest questions

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

CNN's Light Years blog always seems to be addressing some of life's biggest, most perplexing and indeed thorniest questions. Our readers often go there to debate grand themes and ponder the meaning of the universe.

FULL STORY from CNN's Just In


Filed under: News
Studies link pesticides to plunging bee populations
A honeybee forages on scorpion weed flowers.
March 29th, 2012
04:29 PM ET

Studies link pesticides to plunging bee populations

A widely used family of pesticides may cause bees to lose their homing instincts and hinder the survival of their colonies, European researchers reported Thursday, suggesting that governments should re-examine their use.

A French study used tiny radiotransmitters to track honeybees as they left and returned to their hives and found that many of them failed to return after being exposed to non-lethal amounts of one pesticide.

British researchers, meanwhile, found that bumblebee colonies exposed to common levels of another pesticide from the same family grew more slowly and produced nearly 85% fewer queens than non-exposed colonies, "which clearly could have very strong implications for bumblebee populations in the wild," co-author Dave Goulson said Thursday in Paris. FULL POST

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Filed under: On Earth
Activity seen at North Korea launch site
A DigitalGlobe satellite image of North Korea's launch site at Tongch’ang-ri. The image was taken on March 28, 2012.
March 29th, 2012
09:46 AM ET

Activity seen at North Korea launch site

A new satellite image has captured increased activity on North Korea's launch pad as the country prepares for its controversial missile launch in mid-April.

The DigitalGlobe image taken on March 28 shows trucks on the Tongch'ang-ni launch pad. Atop the umbilical tower, which sits beside where the assembled rocket will stand, a crane arm that will be used to lift the rocket stages has been swung wide.

While South Korean media are reporting the first stage of the rocket – known as the booster – has been moved to the launch facility, DigitalGlobe Senior Analyst Joseph Bermudez said that is not visible in this image.

FULL STORY from CNN's Security Clearance


Filed under: On Earth
New York city schools want to ban 'loaded words' from tests
"Dinosaur" is among the words New York CIty is looking to ban from tests, apparently over concerns it could bother creationists.
March 29th, 2012
09:44 AM ET

New York city schools want to ban 'loaded words' from tests

Divorce. Dinosaurs, Birthdays. Religion. Halloween. Christmas. Television. These are a few of the 50-plus words and references the New York City Department of Education is hoping to ban from the city’s standardized tests.

The banned word list was made public – and attracted considerable criticism – when the city’s education department recently released this year’s "request for proposal" The request for proposal is sent to test publishers around the country trying to get the job of revamping math and English tests for the City of New York.

The Department of Education's says that avoiding sensitive words on tests is nothing new, and that New York City is not the only locale to do so. California avoids the use of the word "weed" on tests and Florida avoids the phrases that use "Hurricane" or "Wildfires," according to a statement by the New York City Department of Education.

FULL STORY from CNN's Belief Blog

Scientists discover foot of possible new human ancestor
March 28th, 2012
08:04 PM ET

Scientists discover foot of possible new human ancestor

The discovery of a partial foot fossil in Ethiopia suggests that our human ancestors were possibly an occasional tree-climber and an occasional upright walker.

In a search for additional clues on how and when our ancestors stopped climbing trees and started walking on two feet, scientists went to the central Afar region in Ethiopia. It’s home to some of the world's richest fossil and artifact sites, including the famous Hadar site. “Lucy,” the partial ape-human skeleton, was excavated at Hadar in 1974.

About 30 miles north of Hadar in 2009, scientists excavated a surprising set of foot bones at the Burtele palaeontological site.  Scientists spent the next three years analyzing their findings before reaching a moment of eureka.

Who are the "Red Deer Cave" people?

“For the first time, we have good evidence that there is indeed another hominin lineage that lived at the same time as Lucy’s species,” study co-author Bruce Latimer said in a scientific news briefing. He is an anthropologist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
FULL POST

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Filed under: Human ancestors • News
Citizen scientists shape 'destiny of humanity'
With the help of citizen scientists, SETI hopes to make the most of the Allen Telescope Array.
March 28th, 2012
10:03 AM ET

Citizen scientists shape 'destiny of humanity'

In 2009, Jill Tarter wanted to trigger the most meaningful search for extraterrestrial intelligence to date by pulling everyone together to look at the sky. The SETI Institute scientist brought her wish to the 2009 TED Conference. The idea of citizen science gave her hope.

The more eyes and ears she could put on the sky and the signals being received by the Allen Telescope Array – a collection of small satellite dishes together that can simultaneously pick up signals for radio astronomy research – the better chance we have at making new discoveries. Tarter wanted people to analyze the signals the array sends back in real time – something machines can’t do.

“We think humans are able to do something that our machines can’t” Tarter said. “We’re hoping that in these regions of the spectrum, where there are so many signals that we use for our own communication purposes, that humans can perhaps be sensitive to signals buried underneath all of this chatter of our own that might be coming from a distant technology.”

FULL STORY from Geek Out!

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Filed under: On Earth • Science Education
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